PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - Rachele Fico turned in a masterful performance and fired a four-hit gem to claim her sixth shutout of the season as the No. 11 LSU softball team continued its winning ways with a 3-0 victory over No. 14 Arizona Saturday on day three of the Mary Nutter Classic held at the Big League Dreams Complex.
LSU (14-1) notched its 14th win during its first 15 games to equal the program's best start since the 2007 team started the season with an identical 14-1 record. It also marked LSU's second win in 10 attempts over Pac-12 power Arizona (10-5).
"Rachele has waited a long time to be the No. 1 pitcher and pitch in these types of big games," head coach Beth Torina said. "She's earned every bit of being the ace of our staff. I had to slow her down at one point because she was so excited about this game. She did a great job of holding them in check for the entire game and is starting to separate herself as one of the nation's elite pitchers."
Fico limited the potent Arizona attack to a season's low four hits and only one extra base knock. The senior right-hander tallied five strikeouts versus two walks and improved to 9-0 on the season.
"The goal was to keep their hitters in control and off balanced," Fico said. "We were working both sides of the plate, changing plains and changing speeds. Arizona is a great program with so much history, and they have earned their reputation of being one of the best. You get a little more intense and a little more hyped for these types of games. I had to make sure I stayed within myself, and I admit I was a little too fired up in the first inning. Tammy Wray was a soothing presence for me (at third base), and I told her how she made me feel comfortable on the mound."
LSU jumped out to a 2-0 edge during the first inning. Jacee Blades chopped an infield single down the third base line followed by Allison Falcon's third dinger of the season on a the seventh pitch of the sequence, a line drive over the left field fence.
"Allison did a wonderful job and is such a leader for our team," Torina said. "She set the tone for us on offense and made some great plays on the defensive side for us as well. That's a sign of a true leader to step up in that situation and get the job done."
"I had an uncharacteristically long at-bat," Falcon said. "I don't really do that too often. I was just barely missing and sticking with the hitting plan that Coach Dobson and Coach Leftwich gave us. I found the pitch that I liked the most and swung as hard as I could. It's been working for us really well in the first inning, but we need to maintain that momentum throughout the whole game. There's always room for improvement in that aspect."
The two-run frame was the ninth time that the Tigers have dented the scoreboard in the opening stanza, and LSU has outscored its opponents by a 23-2 margin.
The Tigers tacked on another run and took advantage of a Kellsi Kloss leadoff walk during the second inning. Three batters later and after a Kailey McCasland sacrifice bunt, A.J. Andrews cranked a RBI double into the left centerfield gap to make it 3-0.
After Arizona got a pair of baserunners on during the first inning, Fico wiggled her way out of trouble with a popup and strikeout. The Connecticut native found her groove and sat down 10 consecutive batters.
The Wildcats had their best opportunity to score in the sixth inning. Bridgette Del Ponte and Chelsea Goodacre connected a walk and a single with one out. However, Fico buckled down and received back-to-back spectacular plays on ground balls from Falcon and Tammy Wray at second and third base to keep the Wildcats off the scoreboard.
"The defense played tremendous behind me, there are not enough good things I can say about them," Fico said. "They're so awesome, and they plan so hard behind me. I'm just really lucky to have them and know that they have my back all the time."
LSU squares off with No. 16 UCLA on the final day of the Mary Nutter Classic. Sunday's first pitch is slated for 11 a.m. CT from the Big Leagues Dreams Complex in Palm Springs.
Every LSU softball game will have live stats available inside the Geaux Zone at LSUsports.net/live. Fans also can follow every pitch of LSU softball via live in-game updates on LSU softball's social media outlets at www.Facebook.com/lsusoftball and @lsusoftball on Twitter.
LSU's next home game will be Wednesday, March 13 versus Nicholls State with a 6 p.m. first pitch. Tickets can be purchased online at www.LSUtix.net or on-site starting at $5 for adult general admission and $3 for youth ages 3-12. Season tickets also are on-sale for $75 and additional ticket information is available at www.LSUtix.net.